Its fascinating cultural history is primarily due to an intermingling of Mayan and colonial Spanish roots, which have left a strong mark on more than just the city’s vibrant architecture. Eva Ramirez tells us how to spend 48 hours there…
Set your alarm and take a day trip out of town to visit the historical Mayan Ruins. The 1500 year-old pyramids at Chichén Itzá are the most popular, but you’re best off going early to avoid the crowds. Just 10 minutes away is Cenote Yokdzonot, one of the many sinkholes which the Yucatan region is renowned for. Regarded sacred by the ancient Maya people, you can swim in the cool waters which were said to have magical healing properties. You’ll find many nearby cenotes to visit, including three in the nearby town of Cuzamá and San Ignacio, back in Chochola near Chable Resort.
Another must-see is the archaeological site of Uxmal, an ancient Mayan city which once inhabited up to 25,000 people. While it is a city, Merida has a small-town vibe and you can get anywhere within the historical centre by foot. The pace is slow, locals are friendly and the weary traveller will be comforted to know that it’s the safest city in Mexico, even earning itself the nickname ‘Ciudad de La Paz’ (City of Peace). Simply walking through the candy floss coloured streets is a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.
Head up to Paseo de Montejo, where you’ll find some of the city’s most iconic buildings and monuments. In the town centre, admire the beautiful cathedral, visit the modern Museum Fernando Garcia Ponce-Macay just next door and later watch the world go by at Plaza Grande. For bargain lovers, there are many markets to get lost in, with one pretty much blending into the next, selling everything from fruit and fabric to live chickens. Start at San Benito Market which is close to the centre and work your way outwards to Lucas de Galvez and Santa Ana.
Apoala at Santa Lucía park provides a shady respite from the heat. Spend a leisurely lunch sat al fresco (they have indoor tables too), watching the world go by while sampling traditional Yucatan dishes imbued with contemporary flair. The sirloin tacos are particularly delicious, served with queso fresco, guacamole and green tomatillos laced with a squeeze of fresh orange juice. The cocktails here are great too, particularly the mezcal, St Germain, lime, cucumber and mint concoction. If you’re into beer, try local craft IPA from microbrewery Patito, or the chic Piedra Lisa.
For a fancy evening meal, try K’u’uk. If you’re feeling adventurous, skip the regular menu and ask for the degustation with wine pairing – it’s pricey but well worth trying for a full taste of fine-dining Mexican style. Come nightfall, head to one of Merida’s many cantina. They are casual bars, many with Western-style swinging doors, which originally only catered to men (this has now changed, thankfully) where you can get drinks, homemade tapas-style bar snacks and an authentic experience.
La Negrita in the centre of town serves a marginally wider variety of drinks (many tend to just have two types of beer and a spirit) and there is also live music. There are also plenty of taco carts if you’re in need of an afternoon snack and for those with a sweet tooth, visit Heladería Colón. It’s somewhat of an institution in Merida which serves baked treats, ice cream and sorbets. A must-try is the champola, somewhat of a coconut milk and ice cream float.
For a real taste of Yucatan’s Mayan roots, go off the beaten path and stay at Chable Resort, located in the nearby town of Chochola. It’s a 25-minute drive from Merida but well worth the commute. Here, a 19th-century hacienda has been impeccably restored into a luxury jungle recluse while still retaining much of its original charm. The sprawling grounds house 38 individual casitas and 2 villas which you’ll feel right at home in. They are cosy and contemporary with four-poster beds, glass-walled bathrooms, indoor and outdoor showers and private pools.
Outside of your abode, borrow a complimentary bicycle to explore the many winding paths that connect the different parts of the hotel. You’ll cycle past large stone archways which open up onto manicured lawns, trees with hanging pear drop-shaped chairs, water fountains, a chapel, cigar room, wine cellar, farming grounds, an apiary and many little nooks which are perfect for a spot of afternoon reading. Then there’s the spa – a true sanctuary, where treatment cabins all face onto a mystical cenote which was discovered during the hotel’s renovation.
The food at Chable is a bold and bright ode to the flavours of the region. Championing farm-to-table ethics and seasonal ingredients, the majority of produce is grown on site. There are three restaurants to choose from – Ki’ol, a casual poolside eatery serving up fresh baked breads and eggs at breakfast, tacos and tangy guacamole with yucca fries at lunch and freshly pressed juices throughout the day, a health-focused spa restaurant and Ixi’im, the fine-dining restaurant where head chef Luis Ronzon spills his passion and creativity onto diner’s plates – you won’t believe what this man can do with seemingly simple ingredients such as coriander.